Welcome friend! In this article, you will learn about the sport of weightlifting for seniors. Is it possible, safe, or even a good idea as a senior?
Before we continue I want to point out that this article is about the sport of weightlifting, also known as Olympic weightlifting for seniors, not about lifting weights for general health, i.e. strength training or resistance training.
While the difference might not be apparent to you yet, it is a big one. Olympic weightlifting is a very demanding sport while resistance training is a form of exercise that can be scaled for any experience level and is very beneficial for all seniors.
If you were looking for information on general resistance training for seniors, I recommend you read the article Benefits Of Strength Training For Seniors.
Now that we got that sorted out let’s get on with the topic. Weightlifting is the oldest and most established strength sport out there.
It’s technical, it’s hard and it requires an incredible amount of strength and technical finesse at the competitive level.
Even if you do not want to compete, there is a steep learning curve in weightlifting. That’s why many start learning it as teens or even as children.
With those considerations in mind, you might think that weightlifting is not suitable for most seniors. And I tend to agree.
But with the correct training weightlifting can be a very rewarding and beneficial activity for selected fit seniors with an athletic background.
So if you think that weightlifting might be something you are up for or just want to learn about the sport and what it involves, I recommend you read on.
I will also cover some of the benefits of weightlifting for seniors, which is beneficial information for any type of resistance training for seniors so you might want to check that out as well!
What Is Weighlifting
Weightlifting is a strength sport that in its current form involves two lifts. The snatch and the clean & jerk.
The aim of these exercises is to lift a barbell loaded with plate weight from the ground to overhead following a set of rules set by the Olympic weightlifting organizations.
The history of weightlifting goes way back to ancient history as humans have been competing in lifting heavy weights overhead probably longer than there is written history.
Modern Weightlifting started to evolve into a standardized sport in the late 19th century when competitions between strongmen were held to determine who was the strongest man in the world.
Officially Olympic weightlifting was included in the first Olympic games of 1896 as a part of track and field. The first time weightlifting was included as an event of its own, was in the 1920s Olympics.
In the early days, the lifts and rules varied and included things like one-armed lifts and for a long, the clean and press was part of the official lifts. During this time weightlifting was very much a sport that involved only men.
The sport took its modern after the 1972 Olympics as the clean and press was removed and the snatch and the clean and jerk became the two competition lifts. Around this time more women also started to compete in the sport.
Modern Weightlifting Competition
In a competition, each competitor gets three tries for both lifts. Judges judge each lift individually either as a completed lift or a fail.
The best completed and qualified performance from both lifts are summed to form a total of the best lifts.
There are weight categories ranging from featherweight to super heavyweight for both sexes and the lift totals are compared within these categories. Naturally, the best total in each category wins the contest.
The lifts in weightlifting are performed with special weightlifting barbells that weigh 20 kg. Barbells are loaded with weightlifting plates on each side.
The snatch involves lifting the barbell from the the floor to overhead position in one fluid, explosive motion.
Here’s a great breakdown of the exercise by the weightlifting phenomenon Clarence Kennedy on Omar Isufs YouTube Channel (YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
The clean and jerk involves two phases as the name suggests. The clean involves lifting the weight from the floor to a front rack position. The jerk completes the lift with an explosive thrust with the hips to drive the barbell overhead. You can typically lift about 20% more weight in the clean and jerk than in the snatch.
Here’s a great breakdown of the clean and jerk by the aforementioned gentleman (YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
There are many technical details and rules to these lifts, too much to go into detail within this article. If you want to learn more about the lifts and the sport the International Weightlifting Federation website is a good resource.
Besides the Olympics, weightlifting has amateur, local, and national level competitions all around the world.
For seniors, there are master’s series for weightlifting but due to the technicality and physical demand of the sport, the participation is a lot lower than for example in powerlifting.
Can Seniors Do Weightlifting?
So can seniors participate in weightlifting as a hobby or competitively? Well, the answer is yes, but with strict precautions.
Like I already said, the snatch and the clean and jerk are very technical movements. They challenge all of your physical ability.
They require extreme mobility, stability, power production, positional strength, and especially balance. They also put a lot of force on your joints and connective tissues as you are moving heavyweight at high speed.
Even when performing the lifts with just the barbell the forces are surprisingly high and all the above requirements exist.
All this means that weightlifting has a high risk of injury for seniors who are not accustomed to this type of exercise.
But if you have an athletic background and very good mobility, especially in your hips and shoulder girdle, you might be a good candidate for learning weightlifting as a senior.
You also need to be generally healthy as weightlifting is very demanding on your body even when practiced without weight.
The only way to safely learn weightlifting as a senior is with an exceptionally experienced coach who knows the limitations aging causes.
With the right training, it’s possible to work around limitations and focus on correcting them, learn the techniques, and program the movement patterns so that eventually you can move to using a barbell.
As a senior without prior experience in weightlifting, it’s going to be a slow road but the good news is that just learning weightlifting has some great benefits for seniors.
Benefits Of Weighlifting For Seniors
So if you think you might be capable of training in weightlifting there’s some good news about the benefits of weightlifting for seniors.
Strength training in general is very beneficial for your health as you age. It helps to prevent muscle and bones loss, improves metabolism, and keeps your body functional as you age.
Seniors should also do balance training and mobility exercises alongside strength training for the best physical benefits like I talked about in the article Fall Prevention Exercises For Seniors.
The great thing about weightlifting is that it combines all of these dimensions of physical training.
Weightlifting requires good flexibility and mobility to achieve the required position of deeps squats and holding a loaded barbell overhead.
It also requires and improves your balance skills very effectively. Holding a barbell overhead while rising from a squat is seriously demanding balance work.
Finally, strength training is a very effective form of strength training. It specifically builds full-body functional strength as you use your whole body as a unit to accelerate the barbell overhead.
Weightlifting especially utilizes the hips and the legs as these are where the explosive drive happens. The upper body is only used for supporting the weight and transferring the force to the bar.
So weightlifting is very effective for functional strength and fall prevention for seniors. Unfortunately, it’s very demanding and has injury risks that are too high for most seniors.
That said, as competitive sport weightlifting is one of the safest around. Most ball games, running, and cycling are all more dangerous when it comes to the risk of injury.
As a senior, you should be more focused on health and longevity so any risk should be minimized.
How To Get Started In Weightlifting As A Senior
A good way to get your feet wet with weightlifting can be to find out if you have a local Crossfit box with experienced weightlifting coaches and groups for seniors as I talked about in the article Crossfit For Seniors.
Weightlifting clubs are another option, you can find them in most major cities in the US in many smaller ones as well.
Weightlifting used to be more popular a few decades ago but with the popularity of powerlifting, the popularity declined significantly as I talked about in the article Powerlifting For Seniors.
The good news is that weightlifting is becoming more popular again. For seniors, there is the good news that there should be weightlifting coaches around from the previous prime of the sport that are now seniors themselves.
Coaches like these can be very good if they’ve stuck with their training as they will know firsthand how the aging process affects your performance and capability.
A good place to start looking for a coach if you live in the US is USA Weightlifting Masters.
Options For Weightlifting For Seniors
If you belong to the majority of seniors for whom weightlifting is probably not the best sport I have a few recommendations for options.
If you like competition and sportsmanship, powerlifting is an excellent option for most healthy seniors. Powerlifting can be scaled to any performance and age level.
While powerlifting also requires many of the skills of weightlifting, it’s less explosive in nature. The force production is more controlled and the lifts require less technical training.
Powerlifting still offers all the major benefits of weightlifting for seniors and the possibility to compete if that’s what you are after. There are also a lot of clubs to choose from so it shouldn’t be that hard to find competent coaching for seniors.
Crossfit is another option if you want to really challenge yourself and enjoy sportsmanship and group exercise. Just like with powerlifting and weightlifting
If you are just looking for a way to improve and maintain your physical strength as you age, bodyweight training at home or doing strength training at the gym are probably the best option.
Strength training does not have to be a sport or a competition, after all, you can think of it as a routine for well-being and health. Just like eating a healthy diet and a regular sleeping schedule. That’s the way I personally think of strength training.
If you prefer to train alone or with a partner at home or at the gym, it’s still recommended to consult a qualified coach or a trainer to learn a safe and effective routine with the correct lifting form.
I hope you found this article about weightlifting for seniors useful. If you have any comments, questions or ideas you want to share you can leave them in the comments section below.
As a recap, Olympic weightlifting is a strength sport with a long history. It’s the most technical of all of the strength sports and very demanding on your body and skills.
Weightlifting is typically started at a very young age as it requires a lot of technical training to become proficient in it. The body positions and loads are pretty extreme.
Because of these reasons weightlifting is not suitable for most seniors that don’t have experience with it beforehand.
General strength training is much more suitable for most seniors and very beneficial for your health and ability to function independently as you age.
If you want to try weightlifting or start independent strength training it’s important to get professional coaching to avoid injury.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!